CITIZENS’ CRITICAL ISSUES FOR DISCUSSIONS AND INCLUSION AT THE 2014 NATIONAL DIALOGUE BEING A PAPER PRESENTED BY D. TOLA WINJOBI (PhD), PRINCIPAL COORDINATOR OF CAFSO-WRAG FOR DEVELOPMENT AND CONVENER, CAMPAIGN 2015+ INTERNATIONAL AT SOUTHWEST CSO CONSULTATIVE FORUM ON PRIORITY FOR THE NATIONAL CONFAB AT PLANET ONE HOTEL, MOBOLAJI BANK ANTHONY WAY, MARYLAND, LAGOS MARCH 11, 2014
There is no way we talk about the National Dialogue without talking about the Constitution of Nigeria as most of the issues at the confab would deal with the review or enactment of a new constitution ultimately. Nigerian Constitution has undergone different reviews at different times of her development and the most prominent were those post-independence reviews. For obvious reasons, the Nigerian Constitution suffered a lot of setbacks during the military aberration in our body polity as all of the time the military’s first action whenever they struck was to suspend the constitution and render inactive almost all the democratic structures. This goes to show that the Nigerian political process has undergone a tortuous journey of transition. With the advent of the Fourth Republic, there has been a sigh of relief as Nigerians now have the opportunity to tinker with the Constitution one time or the other. The most recent being the one led by the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution which took place between Wednesday 14th and Friday 16th November 2012 at Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos. It was a simultaneous public hearing across the six geo-political zones. Earlier, on the 31st of October 2012, there was a previous one led by the House of Representatives that took place in the various states and local communities of Nigeria.
I did lament at that time that it’s a pity that we had put the cart before the horse because the public hearing ought to have begun at the zonal level to the national rather than the other way round as it was done then in 2012. I posed some conundrum in 2012 when the review of the 1999 Constitution started. Perhaps, I could still ask the questions as they are relevant.
Do we really need to undergo the exercise of tinkering with the provisions of the 1999 constitution? Or we consider the total overhaul of the whole constitution giving to ourselves a brand new baby rather than repackaging this ill-fated adopted child called constitution? Answering those questions, I think the proposed National Dialogue could lead to overhauling of the constitution.
I also remarked at the time that many things were wrong with this present constitution ab initio. The preamble says “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…give to ourselves….”. Everyone knows that this constitution was the premature child of necessity (probably an illegitimate child) hurriedly conceived, delivered, and handed over to the politicians by the military under the leadership of General Abdulsalam Abubakar. No wonder the end-product is defective. Perhaps the National Dialogue would also address this by reflecting the true ownership of the new Constitution since, it is believed, Nigerian citizens would be involved through this process.
Most importantly, I emphasised that the most hated issue of sovereign national conference would have been better than this amendment to the constitution. The conference would have afforded Nigerians of different ethnic nationalities to express their yearnings and aspirations for the existence of this country if it needs to exist at all as a nation, and to discuss the imbalance and injustice in our land.
Now, what we have is National Dialogue. Where is the Sovereign National Conference we were asking for? Are we sure the end-result of this National Dialogue is not going to suffer similar set backs that other similar conferences suffered in the past? Is the government of President Jonathan serious and really committed to the wish of the people? Going by various statements made by the President and his aides, the outcome of the dialogue shall be forwarded to the national Assembly for ratification. In effect, the National Assembly is still going to tinker with the outcome. This is where the problem lies as the final document might not reflect the yearnings and aspirations of the citizens of this country; it is hoped event would prove otherwise.
One unique feature of this dialogue is the fact that it is seemingly all-inclusive as different sections of the society were involved. These include CSOs/NGOs, Faith-Based Organizations, Community-Based Organizations, Organized labour, Private Sector, Community Development Associations, traditional rulers, professional associations, individuals, women, farmers, teachers including the politicians and the legislators themselves. It was gratifying to note that though there are dissenting voices against it, Nigerians as whole welcomed this National Dialogue which would serve as a vanguard of social justice and political freedoms, a forum for united front on key strategic issues affecting Nigerian citizens.
It is necessary we bare the minds of our people concerning the National Dialogue and their propositions. Efforts would be made to refer to only those ones that are pertinent to the southwest generally and others of relevance to this discourse. Though some of these may sound controversial, it portends the beauty of democracy, no doubt.
There are several burning issues from across the country being canvassed for inclusion at the dialogue. For easy understanding, the following key positions are germane: Constitutional reforms; Political party reforms; Electoral reform; Judicial reform; Police reform; and Civil Society reform. All these six key reform areas are the considered issues, in my view, for consideration at the National Dialogue and are largely but not limited to the following:
Devolution of Powers (too much concentration of power at the centre),
- Federal Character: ossifies principle of fairness and breeds mediocrity and incompetence in civil service precluding attainment of vision 20-2020
- Creation of more states and boundary adjustment to remove ambiguities, with contiguous linguistic groups federating with their homogenous groups (e.g Yoruba ethnic groups in Kwara, Kogi, Edo, Delta and Benue should federate with their brothers and sisters in the nearest states of Osun, Ekiti, and Ondo).
- Recognition of the Six Geo-Political Zones in the Constitution with each having autonomy,
- Three major ethnic groups recognised over 350 ethnic groups and preservation of the rights of the minority groups
- Roles of Traditional Rulers
- Local Government Autonomy
- Revenue allocation and Fiscal Federalism; each federating unit generating its own resources and paying taxes to the central government,
- Resource Control: southwest’s control of her sea, air, land and natural resources (oil and gas) remitting 15% net earning to the federal government.
- CSOs reform: complementing govt effort; enabling environment (e.g. difficulty in registration with CAC); principles of accountability and transparency; proportional representation in national assignment
- The Constitutional Amendment Process and writing a new one,
- Immunity of certain public officers from prosecution with consideration for criminal cases,
- Nigerian Police: Federal, regional and community police system that is not corrupt, non-partisan, and professional
- Judicial System reforms: judiciary, bar, administration of justice, prison, alternative dispute resolution; the rule of law etc.
- Prison System: admin reforms, infrastructural; decongestion; reformatory and rehabilitative vs punitive; human rights taking precedence,
- The Executive
- Rotation of Executive Offices,
- Gender and other Special Groups,
- Mayoral Status for FCT Administration,
- Status of Lagos State,
- Residency and Indigeneship Provision,
- Political party reforms including multi-party system, ideologies, manifestoes, ownership, financing, etc
- Electoral reforms: independence and impartiality of INEC/SIEC; voting system; registration of voters; electoral staff and security officers, election observers; election petition, independence candidacy; Diaspora voting etc
- No-go-area – negotiating the unity of Nigeria (different ideologies (Boko Haram), secession, self determination
Brief explanation of the points raised above are contained in my previous paper titled “Memorandum on the Review of 1999 Constitution Submitted by Dr David Tola Winjobi Convener, Campaign 2015+ International and Principal Coordinator, CAFSO-WRAG for Development Nigeria to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Review Held at Lagos Airport Hotel (Southwest) 15th and 16th November 2012”.